In the Mountains of Bhutan: Kie Drea

April 22, 2014

Tomomi Sasaki

The man behind the stone and bamboo 14.5.

The man behind the stone and bamboo 14.5.


Many athletes were on the road during the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open, but few were at a location as remote as Kie Drea was during its final week. Traveling in the Bhutan countryside with the nearest gym a four-day drive away, the resourceful team captain of the Chikara Nokorimonos still found a way to participate.

First things first: What are you doing in Bhutan? 

We (Drea, his wife Saki and son Alex) are on a three-week holiday for the Festival of Chorten Kora. It celebrates the voluntary burying alive of a 15-year-old princess from neighboring Aruchnal Pradesh in 745 A.D.

That sounds amazing. 

After this, I have no holiday allowance left. All gone! I say, use them all and do something amazing! As soon as the Open dates came out though, I knew our trip would mean that I would be doing Workout 14.5 on the road.

Did you have a plan? 

I figured that I could find a gym with a pull-up bar and barbell in Bhutan. After all, the Open always finishes on thrusters and pull-ups.

When I finally found Wi-Fi in Bhutan on the Friday, I was disappointed to see that I did indeed need a barbell and set about looking for a gym. I was in Trashiyangtse and the nearest gym is in the capital city of Thimpu. That’s a four-day drive.

Most people would have given up at that point. 

Our team is made up of all of the athletes who don’t have a chance of getting in the top spots of the main Chikara team. We'd been doing well. Each week, someone different had contributed to the score, since we have a lot of athletes who are good at one movement, but lacking in another.

We had three good scores on the men and women's sides but I fancied a shot at improving the men's side scores so that we could at least stay on the first page of the Leaderboard. And of course, you have to do all five workouts to get a final CrossFit Open ranking.

So you decided on a DIY route. What exactly did you make, and how?

I got help from some locals. First, we asked around at a few schools to see if they had fitness equipment, but all they play is a kind of darts and archery.

Our second idea was to use a single 43-kg rock from the river. We weighed a few by hand ... but had no idea how heavy they were, and gave up on that idea.

Then, one guy suggested using two sacks of rice suspended from a bamboo stick. We went with that but could only find 25-kg bags. That was measurable though, so given enough time, at least I could register a score. A 25-kg bag of rice is very cheap here at $15.

The next morning, we drove three hours from Trashiyangtse to Trashigang, hoping to find a bathroom scale to weigh the barbell on video. The four of us went into shop after shop asking for a "balance" (set of scales) and "scale" (ruler). We found a 30-cm ruler quite quickly but nobody had a set of scales. Then we found scales, which could weigh up to 26 kg and had a discussion on whether we could weigh stones individually and keep the video rolling as they were attached to the bamboo barbell.

One of the last shops that we visited had an electronic hand scale that went up to 40 kg. We had decided to buy it when the shopkeeper mentioned that she had a 100-kg hand scale that she used to weigh bags of rice. We talked her into selling it to us for $35.

What was your venue for the workout? 

We drove back up the mountain and stopped at the first flat place we found.

What happened next?

We woke up some Indian construction workers living in corrugated iron huts nearby to get some rope and wiring. Then, we weighed stones using my messenger bag. Actually, weighing the stones over and over in my bag was like a sumo deadlift high pull AMRAP warm-up.

We wasted time looking for the right stones until one worker turned up with a mallet. He had the bright idea to knock chunks off a big stone until it weighed 21.5 kg.

While two fellows attached the stones to the bamboo, I explained the video rules to my Bhutanese judge and cameraman.

The light was fading, so we started recording as soon as we were ready. The rest of the story is the shambles you can see on the video.

And by then a crowd had gathered? 

Plenty of people were watching—who knows what they were thinking! I got plenty of funny looks. Saki and Alex are used to the crazy antics, though. They both deserve a medal.

People were interested, though. They were also really surprised at how hard it was when they tried it.

Only one guy managed to get the bar overhead, and even he failed to do a thruster because the stones move and throw you off balance. I wonder if it might be a good training aid to teach vertical bar path? Maybe, maybe not. The bar moves horizontally, too. Perhaps it could be a training aid for people who swing the bar out front.

You posted some Instagram videos titled “CrossFit Trashigang 7am Session.” 

The next day, I went out at dawn to see the aftermath of the workout. About 30 Indian construction workers were waking up, brushing their teeth and getting ready for work. They'd been watching the night before and wanted to try. I gave a demo but they ignored my instructions and took turns with a "grip it and rip it" in any way they could. 

I'd need a lot more time with them, starting with an air squat. They've all got a lot of potential—just need to start with the basics. Going straight into a 43-kg clean was a bit much for them, but there was no stopping them. They all wanted to try before starting work at 8 a.m. We actually went on until about 8:20. Some guys started working in the background.

What did you think when you saw your videos picked up around the web, especially by the CrossFit Games Facebook and Instagram accounts? 

I still can't believe it! I'd originally just planned to share it as a bit of fun with my team back at Chikara. It's hard to tell how hard it is to breathe at such high altitude, so I look like a total weakling struggling with such a light weight. I'm glad I put it on Facebook and Instagram, though. What a fun memory of this year’s Open.

Beyond the Whiteboard sent T-shirts, Rx Review called it, "The best workout video of the 2014 Open,” and I saw lots of kind messages on Reddit. Also, the flood of kind words on Facebook from the Chikara members was really heartwarming. Ours is such a great community who encourage the failures just as much as the successes.

I think it would be fun to do the whole Open here in Bhutan, scrambling together equipment from Thursday to Monday, videotape the workout and then leave behind a makeshift gym for the locals to spread the word of functional fitness.

Maybe we'll come back and do that in March 2015!